Take a quick glance at the standings, it seems as though the Hurricanes will face a non-playoff team at the RBC Center tonight.
Don’t tell that to the Ottawa Senators, who are making their own run at the postseason after winning nine of their last 10 games. They would have to win close to all 10 of their remaining contests to even have a chance to get in, but with the way they’re playing and the talent they’ve had all along, it’s worth a shot, right?
The Hurricanes will try to stop that momentum and potentially end Ottawa’s postseason hopes tonight (each point is that important if the Sens are to qualify) in a meeting of two of the league’s hottest teams. The only other squad in the NHL that has accumulated as many points as these two have over their last 10 contests is the Pittsburgh Penguins, who come to town on April 4.
“We expect by the numbers that we should see a good hockey game,” said Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice. “There should be some good pace to it and a lot of confidence by the players handling the puck.”
Perhaps most important to any success the Senators will have is the production of their biggest stars. Daniel Alfredsson (15 points), Jason Spezza (14 points) and Dany Heatley (eight points) have all been hot in their last 10 games. Scoring beyond that trio has always been a bit of a sore spot for Ottawa (the team’s next-highest scorer is defenseman Filip Kuba with 36 points), but if the top line is going, Ottawa has enough firepower to win games.
Against that unit, the Canes will be looking for the defensive combination of Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason to do more of what they did on Saturday when they were so effective against Alex Ovechkin’s line.
“They’re highly skilled, all three of them,” said Gleason. “If you can shut down that line, you’ll have a pretty good opportunity to win the hockey game. They can roll four solid lines, but obviously that one stands out.”
Corvo will also be welcome to chip in on the offensive end, as he has five goals and one assist in four games vs. his former team since the Hurricanes acquired him on February 11 of last season.
It’s a rare occurrence these days that the Hurricanes know for certain which goaltender they will be facing on the morning of a game, and tonight is no exception as Coach Cory Clouston has yet to officially commit to a starter. Rookie Brian Elliot has won eight straight games, while Alex Auld got the 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Monday, making 27 saves. Auld played well against the Hurricanes in the last meeting between these two teams, making 41 saves on February 24.
Along with Pittsburgh and the Rangers, the Senators are one of a small group of Eastern Conference teams that have seen turnarounds after late-season coaching changes. Ottawa is 15-6-3 since Clouston took over for Craig Hartsburg behind the bench on February 2.
Matt Cullen (lower body) is out tonight for Carolina, with next Thursday vs. the Rangers looking like the earliest possible return date, although that is still up in the air. Scott Walker (upper body) could be back on Saturday vs. New Jersey.
On the Ottawa side, defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who ranks eighth in the NHL in blocked shots, didn’t play on Monday with a lower body injury but is expected to play tonight.